My body looked hot in that turquoise dress and I had good eyes. At least that’s what some drunk guy told me. Right before he turned his head to do a closed-mouth burp and put a thick hand around my waist. I peeled him off with a tight smile and walked away. I could feel my eyes dulling.
Looking out across the torn up frat house, it was clear it was getting late. Newfound couples had trickled out the side doors and the boys who hadn’t closed the deal were getting desperate.
Another vulture walked over, “Hey, what house are you in?”
”Sweet. You know Sarah?”
We both looked over at Sarah. She was dancing like a stripper on a phony Greek pillar. It had been sexy earlier, but with the floor clearing out, now it was just sad. “Yeah. Actually, she’s my roommate.”
“Seriously? That is so hot. You guys should make out.”
“Yeah, because that’s what college needs. More fake lesbians.”
He laughed, a little too hard.
I sighed. “Tell you what, I’m gonna go check on my friend.”
“Oh, all right, you need a drink?”
“No, I’m set.”
Looking over it all, from a balcony with broken railing and a banner draping down reading “AEO”, it felt like I wasn’t there at all. Like I was just floating over this sea of unnatural spawning, of half-attempted failed fertilizations.
Their greased words were so absurdly calculated to me now. Please, like I was supposed to spread my legs for that. To think, I used to be ignored by these insects. I had actually wasted an entire summer running and tanning to stand there feeling like a piñata dangling from the ceiling, and I was not about to let some staggering drunk crack me open.
If I wanted my college paid for, I had to join my mother’s blessed sorority.
They had to take me, I was a “legacy”, meaning my mom used to be a sister. Ah, the dreaded legacy. Unless you are missing your front teeth or steaming with body odor, legacy status means a sorority must accept you.
To keep things fair, it is often not made public among the sorority as to who are the legacies and who are the real pledges. As a result, it is thrown around as an insult. Say something embarrassing, wear something ugly and expect the cutting whisper and snicker, “legacy.”
And me, I didn’t keep anyone guessing because I had the most jarring marker of all: I was fat.
The part that really made the girls discuss me late night was that I didn’t seem to care. That was the real crime. When I laughed and made jokes about my thighs, the older girls cringed. I might as well have been flaunting a stab wound.
None of this seemed to dent me too much. I like to think I was undentable until Josh came along. Josh: better known as the guy who slept with the fat girl. Josh lived down the hall from me in Langston’s dorm. If it weren’t for the acne, he could have been one of those shirtless guys in an Abercrombie ad. Or rather, it seemed like he had serious aspirations of becoming part of an Abercrombie ad. He was pledging a frat that year. There was something about the open hostility of frats that I liked. It seemed more honest. He spent a lot of time getting called douche bag, cleaning a house he didn’t live in and getting force fed drinks, but he usually made time to hang out.
He didn’t make a move for most of the year. That didn’t happen until the St. Patrick’s Day date party (where he took another nameless girl who was not me). Afterwards, he stumbled to my room. I was still awake.
He pounded on my door and whispered loud, “Jennnn, open up.” I opened the door and he tried to focus on me with his intoxicated puppy eyes.
He was wearing a shirt that read “Kiss me I’m Irish.” He squinted one eye and was able to fix on my raised eyebrow. He pointed at his chest, “C’mon man, read the shirt.”
”Go to bed, Josh.”
”Jen, c’mon, I loooove you.”
”That’s cute, really. Now, go to bed.”
He knocked on my door the next morning. Through the peephole, he scrunched his brow at me and smiled. I sighed and opened the door. He took a seat on my bed and let his fingers graze through my CDs. He pulled one out, “AC/DC? Are you serious?”
“Yeah, I was serious,” I said, folding my arms. “You know, in that I think I’m a rocker even though I’m fourteen and live in the suburbs kind of way.”
“Hmmm. I could see that.” he smiled from the corner of his mouth. “I’m sorry about last night … I was pretty drunk.”
I sat down at the edge of the bed. “Yeah, I know.”
He scratched the nape of his neck and turned his head to peer at me. “Remember that time you saved me from the RA and hid me in your closet?”
I looked at him and smiled. “Yeah, cause it was like last week.”
Then he took his other hand and pulled me towards him. “I liked that,” he said close to my mouth. Then he kissed me.
“Smooth” I mumbled through the kiss. “Real smooth.”
“Don’t shhh me,” I said and pushed him back on the bed. I went down with him and kissed his smirking lips back.
His frat brother saw us leave my room later that afternoon. Josh jerked a little when he saw him. Then he started talking fast and laughing at things that weren’t funny. Nothing was officially said between them, but by the end of the day, his whole frat knew what happened. This provided a new source for the constant mockery. I overheard one guy ask him if he planned to bring Chewbacca to the next date party. I didn’t listen for his response. I was big, but I was not furry. Next time I saw Josh, I greeted him with “Rawwrrrrrr.” He paused and touched my arm. “Those guys are idiots,” he said.
Before summer break, Josh and I spent every day studying in the arboretum for finals. He wasn’t exactly acing his classes and so I was glad to see him study. The day before his chemistry final, as he rummaged through his wind-blown papers, he looked up at me and said, ”Man, I don’t want to go to the house tonight.”
“Don’t,” I said. “I’m sure they’ll understand.”
He shrugged. “I gotta. If I don’t, they’ll just haze me worse later.”
“So, what? They’ll put three brooms up your ass instead of one?”
“I don’t even know. I heard it’s bad.”
He came to my room the next afternoon with stale alcohol oozing from his pores, “I missed my exam.”
Josh took me to the last date party of the year. Most of the older girls from my house were there. They saw me and smiled the way a princess might look at the peasantry. They probably whispered about whether or not this was a charity ball. Later on, he danced with me and kissed me, in front of everyone—the older girls, his frat brothers. As far as I was concerned, it might as well have been the President of the United States, which would have been weird, but no less monumental.
It was only three days later that I saw Lauren, a senior in the house, standing on the porch of AEO on a messy Saturday morning with Josh. She was kissing him and gripping her hand on his ass like the man she was. She was one of those gorgeous, man-in-a-woman’s body types that strangely made the rest of us women question our own womanhood. There was no hope for me.
That same day, I got a ride home for the summer. I didn’t call or try to see him before I left, but I did leave a post-it note message on his door that read “Screw Off”. It was true that I didn’t start out the year quite this fat. Maybe it was the drinking, the not exercising, it was hard to tell. When I walked up the steps to meet my mom and she hugged me, I could feel her gripping my fat rolls, weighing them in her hands. “Oh, Jen, you got bigger, didn’t you?” she said, pulling back and looking at me with pursed lips. I gritted my jaw and carried my stuff to my old room. A room plastered with pictures of thirty-pounds-less me.
Before school ended, the other Jennifer in our hall, the one I heard people call “Skinny Jenny” to differentiate us, had asked if I wanted to run a marathon with her. She handed me a packet she printed from the Internet and squeezed my arm with her tanned painted fingers. “C’mon, it’ll be fun.”
“Can you believe that?” I said to Josh later, “You think this is one of Skinny Jen’s do-gooder projects? Making Jennies everywhere skinny? Sick.”
He watched my furrowed brow and said nothing.
Anyways, I kept the packet and I think you know where this is going. I trained all summer. It hurt, my body hurt, at times I wanted to quit, the fat melted off. Blah, blah, blah. As you know already, I went back to school looking gorgeous. You would have no idea I was a legacy, seriously. I bet you’d even try and talk to me in class and not just because I said something funny. In fact, I didn’t have to say anything funny anymore to get attention. I could just sit around and bat my eyes like an idiot and that seemed to be enough for people. The guys from my old dorm, the ones that used to call me their “little sister,” were now feeding me beer and asking if I wanted to crash at their place. Which is very weak code for “Wanna hook up?”
I also moved into the sorority house that fall. Its insides bulged with an ironic tradition. Only ladies lived there. No drinks were to be kept in the house because ladies don’t drink. If they must, they were to locate the nearest fraternity house and flirt with boys to get free drinks.
The girls in the sorority approved of my new body, but my methods were met with mixed opinion. While some thought running that much to lose weight was unnatural, others thought it wasn’t unnatural enough. Diet pills and vomiting were the traditional methods of choice. The downstairs bathroom, the only private restroom in the house, was unofficially where the bulimics did their business. I laughed in disbelief when my roommate told me that. Later, she motioned to me as Mandy, a slim beauty with puffy cheeks, slipped out after dinner. I stepped in and my nose burned from the tinge of ripe vomit.
That first week back, our house was preparing for rush. The first set of rush was a series of mixer parties. There, we were to chit-chat with the rushees and then seduce them with a mini-fashion show detailing the possibilities of sorority life: date parties, barn dances, eternal friendships and boys, lots and lots of boys. On an evening when the more goal-oriented, future-leader types were inside decorating the parlor with crepe paper and balloons, my roommate and I sat on the porch in the summer heat. She let a cigarette dangle at her side and stretched her neck back in her chair.
“You know,” she said, turning to me. “They want you in the fashion sequence.”
“That thing is retarded,” I said, surprised at my own smile. “So, like what part?”
She exhaled with a low giggle. “I don’t know, a good one. Think you’d let me do a little something with your hair?”
“What, like a French twist?”
She laughed. “No sweetie, I was thinking you’d make a kick ass blonde.”
I pulled a strand of hair between my fingers and examined it. It looked almost dirty in my painted hand. “All right.”
That next week, she and I went to a party at AEO’s and that’s how I found myself in the turquoise dress. Looking down from the balcony, I saw Josh. He was leaning in towards some girl. She had her head down and a sweater tied around her waist. I knew that trick. It was to hide her ass. It doesn’t necessarily mean that her ass is enormous or one that needs to be hidden from children. It only means that she is ashamed of this part of hers. And ultimately, she doesn’t like herself. A sure sign for the savvy frat guy that he has a pretty good chance of getting laid.
I went down the stairs, my high heels sticking to the floor as I walked over to Josh. I let him take me in. I watched him close while he pretended like he didn’t think I looked incredible. His jaw all lax like a damn yokel. Not that I’m terrifically clear what a yokel is, I saw it on a rerun of the Simpsons, I think. The ass-sweater girl moved her eyes between us and then looked away.
“Jen, dude, what’d you do?” he asked, eyeing the curve of my waist.
“The whole Jenny-marathon thing. I’m gonna run Chicago. It’s this weekend.”
“Shit, you’re kidding?” he said, his eyes now at my thighs.
“Yeah, you should see the other Jenny,” I said and sucked in my cheeks, doing my best anorexic impression.
He laughed and his wet eyes sparkled.
That was all we said to each other that night. He didn’t leave with ass-sweater girl. I watched him walk over to his friends and caught them gawking at me. They were probably stumbling for a way to turn this into an insult—maybe asking if Fox was still airing “The Swan”. I watched him in fragments as I drifted in and out of broken conversations. Josh, downing more drinks. Josh, giving half-hearted high fives and Josh, precious Josh, loudly challenging his friend to a stair-rolling contest. I went out the back door and behind me, I heard someone yell, “One…Two…Three!” followed by tumbling sounds and low, synchronized cheers.
I walked home alone and let myself think about him a little. I thought he might call me that weekend, maybe to wish me luck at the race or to make plans to go to the Arboretum. I fantasized that now, in a rush of desire, he’d pull me into the woods, slip between my legs and not even care who saw him.
He didn’t call that weekend. I came back from the marathon late Sunday night to a sleeping sorority. I left the next morning before the other girls could get to me–they were gonna ask if he called and I didn’t have a good answer. I sat on the stairs in front of the library and sipped coffee, wondering what gave. The campus was empty except for me and a homeless guy who was curled up next to the stairs. I let the coffee warm my hands and let the wind crawl up my pant legs. I drifted into class and found my explanation. His printed face was staring at me from a newspaper on the floor. I stared back and felt a burn wash through me. I grabbed the newspaper with my free hand and watched the paper tremble at its edges. It read: Fraternity Rushee Dies on Initiation Night.
Josh. Stupid fucking Josh. They used his high school fucking photo and had blown it up to a frame-able size. He had his classic debonair grin slapped on. I used to do an impression of that grin. Then he’d shove me. I’d shove him back. He was smaller than me and he’d pretend to fall. It was like a dance we had. Now, I had to go sharing that look of his with the whole damn campus. I wouldn’t dare picture his hands on me right then, I wouldn’t picture him laughing with me at that photo, and yet here I was, doing just that. I gripped the newspaper and like a little kid, I knit my brow tight and tried to bolt out of class. I was doing this goofy galloping thing with my sore legs and holding my chest like it was gonna start bleeding everywhere.
I got back home, to the sorority house, if you can call that a home. I crumpled up in my new gorgeous body. Not a goddamn ounce of anything to hold on to. One of the older girls found me. She must have heard me crying from the bathroom next to my room.
She slid in next to me on the lower bunk and put her hand on my side.
“I heard,” she said. I wasn’t even sure which one she was, Kelly or Kristen, maybe. It didn’t matter, it barely mattered which one I was. I let her stroke my hair for a while, until I started to feel like a damn Barbie doll. I had been slipping into this amorphous sea since the moment my mom had grabbed my fat roll.
I had been heading for being just another laughing-at-jokes-I-don’t-even-get girl and it was time to grab hold of something. And it was not going to be Kelly-Kristen. “I gotta get out of here,” I said, pushing my stained face off the pillow and pushing this beautiful woman off of my bed. She was probably gawking at me like I was a damn zombie risen from the dead, but it didn’t matter, I was all ready out of the room.
Emily Watters is a second year resident in Psychiatry at Northwestern University. She has previously published works in Student Jama and The New Physician. She currently resides in Chicago and enjoys biking to work along Lake Michigan every day.